PHPA-I employees worried as contract expiry looms

SANGAY RABTEN | Thimphu

About 800 contract employees of Punatsangchhu-I Hydroelectric Project Authority (PHPA-I) are worried over their contract expiry which is due in March this year. 

Their contract expiry which coincides with the onset of the start of schools has come as a big blow for the employees as they ponder over how to meet the expenses and also find new schools for their children if they were to leave.

Recruited in October 2010, for three years, their working period was extended for two years in October 2013 and again for an additional one year in January last year ended in December 2021. The PHPA-I authority again extended the tenure for three months until March 2022. 

A woman contract employee who has two school-going children said that the impending end of their contracts had made most of them worried as they will be rendered jobless soon.

She added that the burden to cover expenses for her school-going children is also giving her sleepless nights. “Where will we go and how will we keep our home fires burning if our contracts are not extended,” she lamented. She added it would be difficult to find a job and school for their children. “We cannot afford to live in Thimphu with soaring house rent.”

“We were fortunate that the project officials extended our contract several times’’ said one of the male contract employees. Although there is no formal notification from the authorities until now, he said that their contract ends in March this year after which they will have to find alternatives. 

Another employee said that the job security of contract employees has become uncertain. “We do not know when the office would notify us to leave,” he said. 

He shared that though he thinks of returning to his village and leading a rural life, he added schools are far in his community while some areas are still not connected with a motorable road.

Seeking anonymity, another male employee said, “We owe much gratitude to the PHP-I as we have been living happily till date and our children have been studying comfortably with the help of the project.”

He said that if the contract employees have to leave soon, they would lose their only source of livelihood. He also added that the employees have to look for a new job, house, and school for the children which is very uncertain and daunting.

Another working mother shared a similar concern. She said there are also working couples in the project and if both of them lost their jobs, it would be difficult for them to start life all over again.

The contract employee also said that the academic session of their school-going children would be affected whereby the academic sessions start in February while their contract term ends in March.

“I have parents and children to look after. It would be difficult to sustain life and we wish that the project extends the term until the end of the academic year so that our children are not affected,” one employee said.

She said that while they are grateful to the project and are aware of the manpower excess with the completion of some structures at project sites, there is no alternative but to move with the completion of the term. Yet, she hopes the selection criteria for the new batch of recruits, if it happens, will be fair for them to get a second chance.

Meanwhile, the managing director of PHPA-I, Naveen Chandra Bansal said that almost 90 percent of work at the project sites is complete and there is excess manpower. However, he said there is no concrete decision to immediately terminate their contracts, and that the matter has been forwarded to the chairperson of the project- the Minister for Economic Affairs.

“It is premature to comment on this matter,” the managing director said. 

PHPA-I is an autonomous body set up for the implementation of the 1,200MW Punatsangchhu-I Hydroelectric Project (PHEP-I), a mutually beneficial Indo-Bhutan Friendship Project.

It is the first project under the 10,000MW Hydropower Development Initiative undertaken by the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of India. Designed to generate 5,670 million units of electricity in an average year, the Project uses 357-m of head available in about 11-km length of Punatsangchhu river. 

The Dam site is about seven km downstream of Wangdue Bridge and all other project components are on the left bank of the river between seven km and 21-km downstream of the Wangdue Bridge.

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